Pat, the Essay

Before the festival I dubbed “Pat Day” is too far away, shadowed by the foolish little holiday of St. Patrick’s Day (which I think is the true heart of American commercialism in the calendar), I want to dedicate a little virtual real estate to the woman, the legend, the “crab” that was Pat. Pat was my mom, who died a couple of years ago, and who would kill me for writing about her if she were here. For about as long as I can remember I referred to her as “Pat,” as, of course, did all of her contemporaries, and pretty much everyone I’ve ever met who knew her. I’m not sure anyone ever called her “Patricia,” although “Patty Anne” may have been used to bug her. Per her siblings, she was “Pat the Crab,” since she was known for her sunny personality even as a kid. (This may very well be inaccurate, sibling rivalry; even as they are all in retirement age, there’s still some there. You just can never truly believe what a brother or sister says about you, especially in a big family. This I know and this I hold to be true, regardless of what blood-related ‘blog readers may argue.)

As an adult, I found a Mother’s Day card I had given her sometime back. It was either dated as being given during the 1970s, or judging by the childish handwriting, it was clearly from me when I was in elementary school. It said, “To Pat, Happy Mother’s Day.” That’s a pretty accurate barometer of how she is eternally Pat to me.

Anyway, she was pretty unique to say the least. She was when I was very young, during the aforementioned 70s, the only mom around who wore sneakers. Mothers still wore slacks and nylons and shoes with heels even around the house, except for the ones that wore housecoats and slippers for house work. They, the housecoated ones, always shuffled around with a cleaning rag in their pockets, but when they left the house any distance at all, they were coiffed and dressed to a fare-the-well.

Somewhere far, far away, not physically but psychologically, the Women’s Liberation Movement was underway. But, in my town, slacks, nylons, purses on laps, napkins (or Kleenexes in a pinch) covering heads during Mass, were all de reguir. But, as she was one of the few working (let alone single, widowed) moms literally chasing five kids, somewhere a long the lines she tried on her own pair during one of our pilgrimages to the Randy Sneaker Factory, where our feet were outfitted with “almost perfect” factory seconds every year. She would never, ever have said the “F-word,” but in her actions Pat waved a big fuck you to established fashion and went for comfort (although, again literally, even in death she still wore nylon pantyhose with sneakers, and I believe she may never have owned her own pair of socks (leastways, not when there was a ragbag of mismatched socks from her kids to wear)).

In summer, the sneakers became Dr. Scholl’s sandals, and believe me it’s a truly frightening moment as a kid when you are chased for some transgression by a gravely pissed off woman brandishing a solid wooden shoe. When she caught me there was a pause of recognition shared between us, when we both realized that a beating with a Dr. Scholl was pretty untenable. Fucking hell of a bluff, though.

I’m trying to remember a good line from Pat, which would thoroughly encapsulate her wit and fucking harshly biting sarcasm. She could just drip acid sometimes, but it was usually unbelievably funny. One line, I once used to use in stand up comedy, was in regard to my taking the quiz to be a contestant on Jeopardy. When I failed to make the cut, she told me “It’s time to admit you’re really more Wheel of Fortune caliber,” or something like that. The best part is she would stay stuff like that as though she were comforting in the face of your misfortune, but subtextually her tone was laden with a deadpan assertion about your relative stupidity. Another favorite is that she returned a letter my oldest brother had sent home when he was first in college; it was corrected in red pen for grammar and spelling. Nice way to get more letters, Mom.

I guess another classic favorite of mine happened a few years back, when she was still going out and about on her own. At a local store, she ran into the woman with whom I was a pretty constant companion in junior high and high school. Even when we were 12, my mother hated this little girl and would, when she left my house, badger me about various aspects of her personality she found loathesome.

As a complete tangent, Pat did possess some amazing, laser-beam honed skills for spotting rotten people. If Pat met you and decreed you unworthy, at some time you would prove yourself to be kind of a shit. Conversely, if you were a classic underdog, and Pat found something redeeming in you, it would generally turn out that you were a rough diamond who was really decent. I think phoniness especially got you an instant thumbs down. If you were a phony priest, forget it, you were doubly cursed. You might as well be a cannabilistic baby eater for all the contempt she might shower down upon you. She was absolutely correct in all points against the friend mentioned above and her family, who are truly the most self-satisfied, narrow-minded, selfish, small clan of people I have ever met.

Anyway, while shopping she runs into this woman who at the time was an adult in her 30s, no longer the 12 year old she hated. They chat, and I am sure my mother sincerely was courteous and polite, and it’s hard to say whether or not she mentioned the woman’s appearance, since I wasn’t there. But, she took note of how the woman had ballooned from chubby adolescence into full-on obesity. I haven’t seen her, but I’ve heard she is remarkably obese.

Pat gets home and calls me, chatting a bit uncharacteristically chipper and full of some mischevious energy. She gets around to running into the woman while shopping. All of this conversation is completely staged by her, so that she can finally blurt out, “You know, if you ever get that fat, I know what I’ll get you for your birthday and Christmas and any holiday.”

“Oh Yeah, Mom, what’s that?”

“Jenny Craig. I’m getting you Jenny Craig for everything if you become as big as a house.” After cracking herself up, she got off the phone.

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